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DevOps is a way to break down the longstanding barriers between siloed development, operations and quality assurance teams

There are few trends in enterprise IT receiving more attention in 2016 than DevOps. A combo of the words "development" and "operations," DevOps is a term that can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. Sometimes it refers to specific software or hardware tools, e.g., a DevOps automation platform for spinning up test labs or sandboxes - but more often it is used to describe a broad new approach to culture within an organization.

Essentially, DevOps is conceived of as a way to break down the longstanding barriers between siloed development, operations and QA teams. One definition from continuous delivery expert Jez Humble holds that DevOps is "a cross-disciplinary community of practice" dedicated to the study of building, evolving and operating rapidly changing resilient systems at scale." The key here is the "cross-disciplinary" part, indicating the need for organization-wide collaboration on technical projects.

There has been tremendous hype and widespread adoption of DevOps solutions so far this decade. But the term, its history and its implications are still widely misunderstood. A 2015 survey of 152 federal U.S. government IT managers by GCN underscored this status quo, revealing that 34 percent of respondents were unsure whether DevOps was the solution to their speed and communications issues. Let's try to clear up some of the confusion here by diving into three things you might not have known about DevOps.

1. DevOps originally sprung from the idea of "10-plus deploys per day"
In 2009, two Flickr employees gave a presentation at an O'Reilly Velocity Conference. While it's hard to pinpoint the exact beginning of DevOps, this talk, entitled "10+ Deploys per Day: Dev and Ops Cooperation at Flickr," is as good a starting point as any ("Dev Ops" is right in the title!). It discussed many of the classic issues dividing devtest and op teams, such as finger pointing about "but it works on my machine!" when a piece of bug-fixing code performs differently from one device to the next.

The point of the Flickr story was to demonstrate how closer collaboration through DevOps could solve age-old problems in IT. The idea of DevOps is to promote transparency, integrated workflows and continuous processes. Supporting it with cutting-edge tools such as an enterprise test management software can help bring the promise of DevOps to fruition. The "10 deploys per day" doesn't have to be a literal guideline, but an example of what is possible when silos are eliminated.

2. DevOps implementations are as much about customer issues as they are savings
Like many relatively new trends in technology (such as cloud computing andagile development), DevOps is often marketed as way to save money. It is certainly the case that a DevOps shop could make better use of its departmental budget than one that was still stuck with the culture left over from the days of waterfall methodology. However, cost isn't the only issue.

According to a Vanson Bourne survey of 1,300 senior IT decision-makers, only about 16 percent of respondents cited "reducing IT costs" as a main driver of their push toward DevOps. More common reasons for taking up DevOps included:

  • A need for simultaneous deployments across platforms (41 percent).
  • Increased uptake of mobile devices in the company (35 percent).
  • Rising pressure from the business side to release applications more quickly (41 percent).
  • Demand from end users for a better experience (39 percent).

These priorities are reflected in exactly how enterprises measure the success of DevOps initiatives. Almost half of them following external devops metrics such as  changes in revenue, time-to-market and customer experience, compared to only 38 percent who judged DevOps mainly on the basis of return on investment and lower costs (13 percent had not made a decision).

3. DevOps is a new way of thinking about and utilizing IT infrastructures
A lot of the attention given to DevOps is about the opportunities opened up by its fresh approach to company culture. It can be implemented to change everything from where team members sit in the office, to how they decide who does what during the devtest cycle. Cross-competency is a big part of the DevOps skill set; in other words, employees in a DevOps-minded organization may have the ability to be a programmer or an administrator, depending on the situation.

One thing that is often overlooked when talking about DevOps is the fact that it also emphasizes a similar sort of versatility across infrastructure. Traditionally, a sizeable chunk of infrastructure is designed with production in mind, which is fine, but has the side effect of potentially putting developers in the dark about whether what they are working on can be deployed into production. This also happens because operations teams are siloed from development, leading to miscommunications about the characteristics of different infrastructure environments.

DevOps is meant to take care of this specific issue as well as many others. The enhanced collaboration can lead to easier creation of a merged environment, in which teams can program, test with enterprise test management and deploy as part of a continuous cycle. At the same time, legacy, physical, virtual and cloud infrastructures can all be adequately addressed.

"DevOps emerged from the realization that infrastructure should support not only the production capability, but also the act of development. Ideally, DevOps should exist in one merged environment and set of concepts," C. Aaron Cois explained in a post for the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. "For example, if I am writing software in a virtualized environment, I can be assured that the software I've developed will deploy seamlessly in that environment."

These are just three things among many that a lot of enterprise decision-makers do not know about DevOps yet. In the years ahead, having this knowledge of why and how to integrate DevOps into IT processes will be crucial as more organizations move toward agile methodologies and look to stay competitive in the mobile and cloud spaces.

More Stories By Sanjay Zalavadia

As the VP of Client Service for Zephyr, Sanjay Zalavadia brings over 15 years of leadership experience in IT and Technical Support Services. Throughout his career, Sanjay has successfully established and grown premier IT and Support Services teams across multiple geographies for both large and small companies.

Most recently, he was Associate Vice President at Patni Computers (NYSE: PTI) responsible for the Telecoms IT Managed Services Practice where he established IT Operations teams supporting Virgin Mobile, ESPN Mobile, Disney Mobile and Carphone Warehouse. Prior to this Sanjay was responsible for Global Technical Support at Bay Networks, a leading routing and switching vendor, which was acquired by Nortel. He has also held management positions in Support Service organizations at start-up Silicon Valley Networks, a vendor of Test Management software, and SynOptics.

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